The institutionalization of communication as an academic field in Israel began with the establishment of the Communication Institute of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. From 1966 when founded by Elihu Katz, and through the 1990s, the Communication Institute acted as a sole academic authority, a conceptual model, and a source of faculty recruitment for communication departments in the other Israeli institutions of higher education. Today, 18 academic programs in communication operate in Israel, offering various academic degrees. The basic orientation of these programs is theoretical; yet, the professional practicum, taught by senior Israeli journalists, forms an integral part of the curriculum. About 200 practicing communication scholars are members of the Israel Communication Association (ISCA) founded in the mid-1990s. Most of them are also members of the ICA, IAMCR, and other professional organizations.
The concept of communication as an academic field, as developed in Israel in the 1960s, was rooted in Paul Lazarsfeld’s school, comprising the administrative research model, which sought to integrate academic and applied studies of communication that were relevant to journalists, cultural policymakers, and academic researchers. This concept was further enhanced by the Communication Institute’s close, enduring cooperation with the Institute for Applied Social Research (IASR) headed by Israeli-American social psychologist Louis Guttman. The IASR generated crucial studies connected to policymaking, public opinion, and patterns of media consumption (Gratch 1973).
During the 1960s and 1970s, the functional theory was dominant in Israel as well as in the American social sciences. At the beginning of the 1980s, the hegemony of administrative research was weakened when several sociolinguistics researchers joined the Communication Institute at the Hebrew University. The immediate change was that new research topics and methods were included in the curriculum, such as discourse studies, linguistics, and cultural studies. The more profound changes were the legitimization of subjects that were traditionally part of the humanities and the diminishing influence of communication studies on communication policies.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Israel’s electronic media system rapidly developed from one television channel and two government-controlled radio channels to a semi-private, commercial, competitive, multichannel system. Growing demand for media studies on both the academic and professional levels at least partly resulted from these radical changes in the communication scene. In parallel, the process of privatization of higher education enhanced the competition among existing universities as well as private entrepreneurs who established private academic colleges. Thus, in the 1990s, communication studies began to be offered in all the Israeli universities and several regional academic colleges.
At the time of writing (2007), 18 communication academic programs were offered by different governmental and private institutions, including six universities (Hebrew, Haifa, Tel Aviv, Ben Gurion, Bar Ilan, and Open Universities), three private academic colleges (Netanya University College, Herzlia Interdisciplinary Center, College of Management), and three publicly financed academic colleges (Yezreel Valley, Sapir, Ariel). Six colleges offer a BEd in communication (David Yelin, Oranim, Lifshitz, Gordon, Levinsky, College of Teaching Technology).
In most cases, the academic programs reproduce the Hebrew University model in which the research orientation remained dominant. However, they are also trying to develop their own unique academic features and specific subjects, and in general they are all investing more effort than the universities in the development of professional journalistic training for various media.
All the departments and schools of communication are equipped with state-of-the-art technologies and a practicum organized along specializations in different media – print, radio, television, online journalism – as well as general subjects of public relations and advertising. Notwithstanding the growing attention given to professional journalistic training, a diploma in communication studies has not yet become a condition for applying for a position in media organizations.
The research output of Israeli communication scholars has been most prolific and has produced a voluminous body of theoretical and applied social studies over the years. Historical studies demonstrated that the establishment of the Hebrew University was part of nation-building projects before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 (Adoni & First 2006; Katz & Hed 1997), and the scientists viewed themselves as active participants in the Zionist project. Consequently, in the earlier periods of the country’s history, most studies conducted by communication scholars focused on issues relevant to Israeli society, for example, studies of media contributions to social integration.
The hegemony of the functional paradigm ended in the early 1990s, and the rapid development of various branches of European cultural research opened up critical vistas of Israeli communication research, which nowadays includes critical approaches, cultural studies, and ethnographic and historical research. Although contemporary communication research is more interdisciplinary, it continues to focus on Israeli society’s central issues. There is, however, a continuing effort to anchor these idiosyncratic problems in the wider theoretical context of various approaches in communication research.
At present, a wide spectrum of topics is investigated by Israeli communication scholars, comprising all the main issues of international communication research including research on discourse and on popular culture. Among the dominant areas is a well-developed and still growing research trend in political communication, comprising analysis of news, public opinion, patterns of interaction between media and the political system, Palestinian media, and media and terror. There is also strong interest in multiculturalism and research on ethnic minorities, with a particular emphasis on Arab and Russian communities in Israel, their representation in Israeli mainstream media, the development of their own media systems, and their consumption of communication. Recent years have witnessed rapid developments in feminist communication research which was previously rather scarce. Additional strongholds of Israeli research are discourse analysis, media effects on children and youth and cultural studies on various aspects of Israeli culture and media contents, using quantitative, ethnographic, and semiotic methods.
The privatization of applied social research significantly diminished the influence of academic, noncommercial, policy-oriented communication research on social and cultural policies.
- Adoni, H., & First, A. (2006). Structural dilemmas and changing solutions: Communication research and teaching (in Hebrew). Jerusalem: Hebrew University Magnes Press.
- Gratch, H. (1973). Twenty-five years of social research in Israel. Jerusalem: Jerusalem Academic Press.
- Katz, S., & Hed, D. (1997). The history of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (in Hebrew). Jerusalem: Hebrew University Magnes Press.
- Katz, E., Peters, J. D., Liebes, T., & Orloff, A. (2003). Canonic texts in media research. Cambridge: Polity.